We Know Best: Screaming Compassion and the Keys to Customizing Your Self-Compassion Practice


We Know Best

We know best what we need to take care of ourselves.  Even if we do not have the tools, if we can simply find a minute or two to be still, and ask ourselves what we can do to be kind to ourselves, the answer is there. We encounter problems when we try to overthink this or are simply still reeling from a mind clouded with worry and an intense focus on our perceived weaknesses.

All Problems. No Answers.

I once worked with someone who was adamant that neither she nor anyone else had the answers to her problems.  When suffering occurred, she would immediately become disappointed and stuff her problems.  As you can imagine, there is only so much room to stuff these problems, so when she felt like she was going to blow she would let out a fire extinguisher’s worth of screams detailing her misery and frustration.

I was sad for her.  She was a good person, who simply did not have positive, safe supports through her life.  There was honestly no reason that she should have the confidence to believe that other people could help her with her problems or that she could help herself.  Then, something occurred to me.  The screaming is what has helped her survive so long.  It is why she had never been to the hospital for her stresses, and why she was able to muster up the courage to come back to therapy to talk about what caused her the most pain.

Screaming Compassion

From a self-compassion perspective, I thought that the screaming was somewhat effective.  She was empowered, could silence her inner critic, and got those pesky emotions out, at least until she was done yelling.  That was the problem.  The well-being did not last.  For that, she would need to scream what she needs.  Wait, I thought. That is exactly it!  Maybe she could scream what she needs.

The next time we met, the session played out as it had, but when she started screaming, I joined her.  I screamed with her, “This is Terrible.  What do you think you need?”  It was like magic.  She screamed it right back at me.  After weeks of frustration, she began to feel empowered.  We framed this work as screaming compassion, and she would do this once a day into her pillow with the white noise machine, so as not to worry her roommates.  When she stressed during the day, she was to remind herself of the one thing she discovered she needed from the previous day, and to wish this for herself with the subtle reminder that this wish be enough.

After a couple months, she did not need screaming compassion anymore.  She was able to use a subtler version of self-compassion to decipher her needs.  Plus, all the screaming epiphanies had given her a lot of insight and tools, and she was feeling much more empowered and heard.  I will forever be softened by her screams, and impressed with her willingness to use the resources available to her to discover what she needed.

I won’t lie to you.  I have tried screaming compassion myself, and have found that it is pretty helpful sometimes.  It is a great way to rid ourselves of the anxiety of taking up too much space and being judged by letting out our concerns with a big voice.  It is also so exhilarating that we are almost compelled to listen to ourselves in the present.  For those prone to overthinking or feeling that the way to well being is obscured by all of your doubts and fears, screaming compassion cuts right through that nonsense.  There is something about how primal the act is that activates our bodies need to survive, and clarifies our fundamental needs.

If this does not work for you, at least it will be a good workout.  Think of all the calories you will burn with the screams.  As an added bonus, you have at least a moment of getting all of that funk out that has been frustrating you all day.  Enjoy the ride funk, we’re screaming right now.  I have the feeling this will be good for your heart no matter the answers you come up with.

Customizing Your Self-Compassion Practice

You do not necessarily need to scream to discover what you need.  There may be another method out there that works best for you, but work with your skill set.  Where do you feel the most free to express how you feel?  Maybe writing works for you.  Maybe having a conversation with a trusted friend works for you.  Perhaps debating yourself will work.  You might even think about what will not work for you, and then begin to explore the opposite of those things.

Do not get caught up in coming up with some complex way to address complex needs.  Your mind is already making your problems too complicated to deal with.  Simplify these needs by breaking off one piece at a time, and seeing what you can do to bring well-being to that part of yourself.  In no time, you will have broken off so much that there may be nothing left to break off, and you will have to settle for simply knowing your heart and understanding how to do what is necessary to feel at ease.  

365 Days of Kindness.  Self-Compassion. Day 76.  In the Books.